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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State> One Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century > Sivaji Ganesan - Nadigar Thilakam


Sivaji Ganesan Stamp
Sivaji Ganesan Stamp
issued on 1 October 2001

Sivaji Ganesan: Autobiography of An Actor - Book Review by Sachi Sri Kantha, 11 November 2008
In Memory of Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan - Ram N Ramakrishnan, Doha
Composite Picture Gallery - the Many Roles...
Tamil cinema's lodestar - S.Viswanathan, 17 August 2001
Sivaji Ganesan's Films

Sivaji Ganesan as Veerapandiya Kattabomman

Veerapandya Kattabomman

Veera Pandiya Kattabomman Speech Part 1 - Part 2

Sivaji Ganesan in Vietnam Veedu
Vietnam Veedu

உன் கண்ணில் நீர் வழிந்தால், என் நெஞ்சில் உதிரம் கொட்டுதடி;
என் கண்ணிற் பாவையன்றோ கண்ணம்மா என்னுயிர் நின்னதன்றோ...

Video: அண்ணன் காட்டிய வழியம்மா

Sivaji Ganesan as Veerapandiya Kattabomman
Kappalottiya Thamizhan

பொன்னை விரும்பும் பூமியிலே

Bale Pandiya


as Appar


as Bharathy

Sivaji Ganesan in Gauravam

Sivaji in Koondukilli



Sivaji Ganesan in Paalum Palamum
Paalum Pazhamum
பாலும் பழமும்
கைகலளில் ஏந்தி

Sivaji Ganesan inPadikatha Methai

Padithal Mattum Pothuma

Sivaji Ganesan in Sumathi En Sundari
Sumathi En Sundari

Pattikada Pattinama

Paava Mannipu
Sivaji Ganesan in Puthiya Paravai
Puthiya Paravai

Thayai Pola Pillai

Tenali Raman

Thanga Pathakkam

Thirumal Perumai

Kalyaniyin Kanavan

Uthama Puthiran

with C.N.Annadurai

with Marlon Brando

Sivaji Ganesan at Wikpedia ".. His real name was Villupuram Chinnaiahpillai Ganesan. He was born in Sirkali, Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu, India. His parents were P. Chinniah Mandraayer and Rajamani Ammal. The name 'Sivaji' was given to him by Thanthai Periyar after watching his excellent stage performance as Emperor Shivaji. .."
Sivaji Ganeshan: The Making of a Legend - Roopa Swaminathan, 2002 "At the age of nine, an Indian boy ran away from home to join a travelling theatre group. This passion for acting would one day make Sivaji Ganeshan a legend in Tamil films. Like many other film stars of Tamil Nadu, Sivaji Ganeshan also entered politics. However, he was loved more for his acting and his generous acts of charity. This is the fascinating story of an actor; worshipped by millions - crowned with the title of Nadigar Tilagam, the Jewel Among Actors. "
A Chat with Sivaji - V.S.Srinivasan,1997

Dialogues of Sivaji

Talent, charisma and much more - Randor Guy, 27 July 2001
Sivaji Ganesan -- Facts, Info, and Encyclopedia article
rediff.com: Tamil Film Actor Sivaji Ganesan Dead
Sivaji Ganesan - Tribute by Tamil Guardian
A doyen among actors - D.B.S.Jeyaraj
Sivaji: Actor with a large heart
Sivaji: The legend lives on
Sivaji Ganesan - Tribute by The Music Magazine
Idle Brain - Tribute to Sivaji Ganesan
Sivaji Ganesan
How V C Ganesan became Sivaji
Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganeshan
A birthday tribute to Sivaji Ganesan - Sify.com
Sivaji, The Great!
The Hindu : Tearful farewell to Sivaji Ganesan
Sivaji's Bio Data

Sivaji Ganesan
- S. Theodore Baskaran

One Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century

Sivaji Ganesan - Nadigar Thilakam
1 October 1928 - 21 July 2001

Sivaji Ganesan - Statue - Chennai Marina
Sivaji Statute in Marina, Chennai unveiled on 21 July 2006

Parasakthi - Sivaji Ganesan's First Film
Parasakthi - Sivaji Ganesan's First Film, 1952

A Lesson in Gratitude from the Movie Maestro Sivaji Ganesan
by Sachi Sri Kantha, 20 December 2005...

It is always enchanting and heart-warming to read and listen to real life events, which are educational at any time to individuals of all age ranges.

In this spirit, towards the end of the year, I provide the following two anecdotes from the life of Tamil movie legend, Sivaji Ganesan (1928-2001). In these two anecdotes, Sivaji Ganesan had taught to many, what is gratitude and why it deserves recognition and popularisation.

The first anecdote was from a memoir book about the Tamil movie world which I read recently, It was authored by distinguished Tamil movie script writer Aroordhas, who had known personally and professionally Sivaji Ganesan for decades.

The second anecdote was oral history I heard in Colombo three decades ago from one of my music mentors,violinist Vannai G.Shanmuganantham.

Both anecdotes have a few inter-linking threads. The oral story I heard around 1975 neatly gelled with the written story which I read recently.

Sivaji Ganesan and his tutor K.D.Santhanam [written story]

Sivaji with Aroordhas

Renowned script writer and director Aroordhas (born 1931) has a five decade track record in Tamil movie history. His stage name Aroordhas is a clipped version of his full village cum personal name of Tiruvaroor Aarokiyadhas. His memoir book, Naan Muham Paartha Cinema Kannadigal [The Cinema Mirrors I have Looked At; Kalaignan Publishers, Chennai, 2002, 224 pages] carries a delightful collection of anecdotes on the personalities who moved the movie world of South India. I was rather touched by a reminiscence provided by Aroordhas on Sivaji Ganesan in section 18 of the book (pages 109-113). I provide my English translation of this entire section below.

�The Madurai Mangala Bala Gaana Sabha was a drama troupe managed by Ethaartham Ponnusami Pillai of Thiruvathavoor, Madurai. This troupe stationed themselves in Tiruchi and conducted dramas at the Thevar Hall.

From Sangili Aanda Puram, a boy aged 6 or 7 had joined this drama troupe with his friend, a neighbor�s son. In this drama troupe, there was a Tamil tutor (Vaathiaar) who taught drama and Tamil to the young charges. He was short in stature and was extremely strict. With or without sense, this tutor punished his young charges by cane beating, even for smallest errors. Because of this, the young boys had their bowel leaks, when they saw or even dreamt about this extreme disciplinarian cum tutor. In their dreams, he appeared like a charging lion.

But that Tamil tutor had a great gift. He could compose beautiful, rhyming Tamil songs based on poetic grammar. One day, at the stage, that boy from Sangili Aanda Puram was acting in the role of a young widow. And by carelessness on that day, he was wearing a blouse. This had been noticed by that disciplinatrian tutor.

In that era, wearing blouse by widows was rather inappropriate according to societal norms. At the end of the scene, that Tamil tutor harshly gave a cane beating to that young boy; �Can�t you be so careless and unrealistic in your profession?� was the complaint against that young boy.

Guess who was that young charge, who received such a beating? Maestro Sivaji Ganesan. Who was that cane-loving tutor? My most respectful and admired elder and great poet, K.D.Santhanam (S).

43 years ago, during the shooting of the movie �Pasa Malar�, I met elder K.D.S. at the old Neptune Studio and paid my respects. In that movie, when Sivaji Ganesan (the hero) becomes rich, he is met by a character named �Rajaratnam�. KD.Santhanam played that character.

That young charge V.C.Ganesan never forgot about, in his illustrious career, from whom he received the cane-beating and from whose beating he learnt the alphabets of acting and Tamil diction. It was he, after establishing his fame in the movie world, who recommended his harsh disciplinarian tutor for that particular character in his great movie.

During the shooting days, Sivaji would be seated outdoors near the shooting floor with crossed legs and be in conversation with me, while having a cigarette in his lips. Then, elder K.D.Santhanam would occasionally pass us from the make-up room towards the shooting floor. At the instant when Sivaji sees his old tutor, he would dutifully stand up in respect, and hide the cigarette behind his back. Though noticing that homage silently, the old tutor K.D.S. pretend ignoring us and with bowed head pass us quietly.

It would touch my heart, when watching that simple, elegant and meaningful respect Sivaji paid for his old tutor. What a class! What a grateful prot�g�! I mention this anecdote because the younger generation should be informed of this humility and gratitude shown by maestro Sivaji.

Once, after K.D.S. had passed us and went beyond the listening distance, Sivaji sat back and told me: �Aarooran! On this Santhanam tutor (Santhana Vaathi) who passed us. The amount of beating I got from him isn�t a few. During dance training (when a step is missed for a beat), during dialogue training (when a word is missed), he beat us severely! Oh Mother � He�d chase and chase us and beat us! Even when he went to the toilet, he carried his cane. Now he is passing us like a young girl with head turned towards the floor. Even when I thought about him in those days, I�d shiver.�

I asked him jokingly: �Then, why did you recommend him for this role?�

[Sivaji said] �You don�t know. Because of those beatings I received from his hand, I�m now sitting comfortably like this as Sivaji Ganesan. When I joined the drama troupe, I was a zero. From him only, I learnt how to speak dialogue and how to act. Do you know, what a classy Tamil poet he is? What a poetic touch he carried in his hands? The songs he wrote for the Ambikapathi [1957] movie I acted: Ah! What sweet Tamil, and what lilting rhythm! I tolerated all those beatings because of his blessed Tamil knowledge. Otherwise, I�d have quit the troupe and ran back to my home during any one of those nights.�

Later, when elder K.D.S. was alone at the shooting floor, I approached him and politely mused;

�Elder Sir, I�ve heard that you gave severe beating to Sivaji Annan in his young days.�

[K.D.S.] �Oh! He has told you about that. Oh! That was in those days. Now I�m becoming senile. I cannot remember your script now. Not only that, when Thambi Ganesan stand in front of me, shouldn�t I look at his face and deliver my dialogue? When I look at him now, I�m getting nervous! Because of that, can you prepare me for my dialogue by repeating your script not once but four times? It may be a bother. Kindly oblige.�

How Time did change? The same great tutor who taught dialogue to Sivaji Ganesan in his young days, with disciplinary cane at his hand, now he feels nervous to stand in front of his illustrious prot�g�, and ask me to prepare him well for a scene in which he faces his prot�g�.�

When I read these pages from Aroordhas�s book, I was touched by three inter-twined elements;

(1) a thankful prot�g�s devotion to an extremely strict, but sincere, mentor,

(2) repayment of intellectual debt by an esteemed prot�g�, and

(3) the mentor�s heart-felt pride on the grade made by his prot�g�.

What Sivaji Ganesan said of the touching poetic feel of his mentor K.D.Santhanam was no exaggeration. The 16 lines of that one sweet melody in the Ambikapathi [a historical love yarn set in the 12th century Chola Kingdom, along the lines of the more popular Romeo-Juliet story] movie, beginning with the lines �Kannile Iruppathenna Kanni Ila Maane� and sung by P.Bhanumathi as well as T.M.Soundararajan were from the fertile mind of K.D.Santhanam.

Sivaji Ganesan and his boyhood pal E.Subbiah Pillai [oral story]

Around the time [in 1961 or 1962] when his signature movie Pasa Malar was released, Sivaji Ganesan visited Colombo. I heard the following story from my mentor Vannai G.Shanmuganantham, around 1975, who was an eye-witness.

E.Subbiah Pillai

At a cultural function held at the Saraswathie Hall, Bambalapitiya, Sivaji Ganesan was the guest of honor. With his roving eye, he had a glance at the orchestra performing at the side of the stage. During intermission, he rushed to the orchestra team and stood in front of the clarinetist E.Subbiah Pillai, who was calm and composed. With stretched hands, Sivaji greeted him, �Neenga Subbiah Annan ille� [Aren�t you Subbiah elder?]. The clarinetist softly responded in the affirmative. Then, Sivaji immediately hugged his long-lost boyhood pal, and was overcome with emotion. The words fumbled from his mouth.

�Anne! Suhama irukeengala? Eppavo, Ceylonukku oodi poonatha sonnanga. Athukappuram, oru sethiyum kiddaikale.� [Brother, are you keeping fine? Those days, I heard that you have run to Ceylon. After that, I didn�t hear any news about you.]

Then only it became known to the fellow members of that orchestra team that Sivaji Ganesan [a junior] and Subbiah Pillai [a senior] were boyhood pals in a boys drama troupe, and one day [partly because of the disciplinary tactics of their tutors and partly because of the lure provided by a sea-crossing trip to Ceylon], Subbiah Pillai had moved to Ceylon without announcing his decision to his then clique. Thus, the pals became separated.

In the intervening 25 years or so, while Sivaji Ganesan became a famous movie star in Chennai, Subbiah Pillai established himself as a clarinetist in the Radio Ceylon artiste. Subbiah Pillai, as a senior to Sivaji Ganesan, might have taught a few �steps� in the art world then, to the talented rookie. Sivaji never forgot the face of his senior.

I personally knew Subbiah Pillai �Master� in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In fact, for my flute debut performance [Arangetram] held on December 3, 1971, at the Bambalapitiya Sammangodu Vinayagar Temple, my mentor T.P.Jesudas honored him by requesting him to �keep the Talam [rhythm keeper]� in front of me.

Then, after I entered the university, due to demands on time, I lost much contact with those older generation of musicians. One day [before I heard this Sivaji Ganesan anecdote from violinist Shanmuganantham Master] I received the news with shock that Subbiah Pillai �Master� had died in Jaffna hospital, following a medical misa dve200re a00er an operation. Even now, I get a lump in my throat when I think about the calm and composed Subbiah Pillai Master � a senior to Sivaji Ganesean of old drama troupe days - who was the only clarinetist I knew in Colombo in those days.

...from Sri Lanka Tamil Daily 'Thinakaran',
11 November 1972 - on Death of Subbiah Pillai

In Memory of Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan - Ram N Ramakrishnan, Doha
Sivaji Ganesan"If there was a matinee idol in the realms of Indian cinematic history who received as much accolades and an equally strong bout of criticism for his histrionic abilities, it was Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan. Given that he never achieved the national status that he deserved perhaps is a reflection of the complexities of the language of his mother tongue that required strong grammar, poetic undertones and louder decibels for dialogue delivery.

Film critics and audience forming the majority in the North of the Vindayas who were used to the much softer, subtle shayaari and ghazals perhaps found it difficult to applaud Sivaji�s daredevilry in characterization of roles he depicted in his film career.

Perhaps if he were to be born out of the Dravidian State and culture, there would have been a national consensus that he was the greatest actor Indian cinema ever produced. It is indeed a misfortune to know that Mr. Nehru pleaded ignorance of the actor when President Nasser of Egypt enquired dearly about him after seeing his stellar performance in �Veerapandia Kattabomman� in the Cairo Film Festival. Nehru did make amends when he made Sivaji the main host when Nasser visited India subsequently!.." more

Tamil cinema's lodestar - S.Viswanathan, 17 August 2001
"Sivaji Ganesan's voice and diction not only changed the course of dialogue delivery in Tamil films and plays, but also had a deep impact on the manner in which the language is spoken by narrators on radio and television. This is perhaps the most impressive contribution of the late thespian."

Two factors contributed to this success. First, the principal actors in Tamil films of the 1940s and the 1950s were Telugus, whose talent in acting was not matched by the way they delivered dialogues in Tamil. In fact, Sivaji Ganesan himself lent his voice to Mukkammala Krishnamurthy, a Telugu actor, for a Tamil film, Niraparathi, before the making of Parasakthi, and the film was well-received by the Tamil audience. Secondly, the 1950s saw the growth of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, thanks to the forceful oratory of leaders such as C.N. Annadurai and Karunanidhi. They transferred their language skill to the film medium in the scripts they wrote, ensuring their instant acceptance.

Sivaji Ganesan with his extraordinary memory and stentorian voice could captivate his fans with long spells of dialogues in chaste Tamil. He said in an interview that Parasakthi marked a break with the past, when Tamil films used to have 15 or more songs each. "Moreover," he said, "dialogue for me is poetry. I have a passion for poetry. And so, there was no problem for me in rendering it effectively." " more
Sivaji Ganesan's Films


1952 - Paraasakthi
1953 - Pempudu Koduku (Telugu)
1953 - Poongodhai
1953 - Pardesi (Telugu)
1953 - Anbu
1954 - Manohara
1954 - Edhirpaarthadhu
1954 - Andha Naal - first songless Tamil film
1954 - Thookku Thookki
1954 - Kalyanam Panniyum Brammachari
1955 - Mudhal Thedhi
1955 - Mangayar Thilagam
1955 - Kalvanin Kadhali
1956 - Thenali Raman
1956 - Rangoon Radha
1956 - Pennin Perumai
1956 - Amaratheebam
1957 - Vanangaamudi
1957 - Tala Vanchani Veerudu (Telugu)
1957 - Thangamalai Ragasiyam
1957 - Makkalai Petra Magarasi
1957 - Ambigaabathi (ALS)
1957 - Pudhaiyal
1957 - Baagyavathi
1958 - Sabaash Meena
1958 - Saarangathaara
1958 - Uthamaputhiran
1958 - Kaathavaraayan
1959 - Veerapandiya Kattabomman
1959 - Veerapandya Kattabrahmanna (Telugu)
1959 - Maragadham
1959 - Baagappirivinai
1959 - Thaayaippol Pillai, Noolaippol Selai
1959 - Thangappadhumai


1960 - Pillalu Techina Challani Rajyam (Telugu)
1960 - Padikkadha Medhai
1960 - Paavai Vilakku
1960 - Irumbu Thirai
1960 - Dheiva Piravi
1961 - Paavamannippu
1961 - Paasamalar
1961 - Papa Pariharam (Telugu)
1961 - Paalum Pazhamum
1961 - Kappal Ottiya Thamizhan
1961 - Punar Jenmam
1962 - Pavithra Prema (Telugu)
1962 - Paarthaal Pasi Theerum
1962 - Bale Pandiya
1962 - Aalayamani
1962 - Nichaya Thaamboolam
1962 - Padithaal Mattum Podhuma
1962 - Vadivukku Valaikaappu
1962 - Paasam
1963 - Ratha Thilagam
1963 - Paar Magale Paar
1963 - Iruvar Ullam
1963 - Arivaali
1963 - Kulamagal Raadhai
1963 - Kungumam
1963 - Annai Illam
1964 - Karnan
1964 - Karna (Telugu)
1964 - Ramadasu (Telugu)
1964 - Navarathiri - announced as Sivaji's 100th film
1964 - Kai Kodutha Dheivam
1964 - Pachai Vilakku
1964 - Pudhiya Paravai
1965 - Thiruvilaiyadal
1965 - Santhi
1965 - Pazhani
1965 - Anbu Karangal
1966 - Motor Sundaram Pillai
1966 - Mahakavi Kalidas
1966 - Selvam
1967 - Thiruvarutchelvar
1967 - Thangai
1967 - Kandhan Karunai
1967 - Iru Malargal
1968 - Uyarndha Manidhan
1968 - Thillana Moganambal
1968 - Enga Oor Raja
1968 - Thirumaal Perumai
1968 - Galaatta Kalyanam
1968 - En Thambi
1969 - Kaaval Dheivam
1969 - Dheiva Magan
1969 - Sivandha Man
1969 - Thanga Surangam
1969 - Gurudhatchanai


1970 - Vilaiyaattu Pillai
1970 - Vietnam Veedu
1970 - Engal Thangam
1970 - Enga Mama
1970 - Paadhugaappu
1971 - Savaale Samaali
1971 - Moondru Dheivangal
1971 - Sumadhi En Sundhari
1971 - Babu
1971 - Kulama Gunama
1971 - Thangaikkaga
1971 - Iru Thuruvam
1972 - Vasandha Maaligai
1972 - Gnana Oli
1972 - Bangaru Babu (Telugu)
1972 - Needhi
1973 - Gauravam
1973 - Bhakta Tukaram (Telugu)
1973 - Rajapart Rangadurai
1973 - Rajaraja Cholan
1973 - Baaradha Vilas
1974 - Thanga Padhakkam
1974 - Anbai Thedi
1974 - En Magan
1974 - Theerkka Sumangali
1975 - Anbe Aaruyire
1975 - Avan Thaan Manidhan
1976 - Chanakya Chandragupta (Telugu)
1976 - Uthaman
1976 - Unakkaga Naan
1976 - Sathiyam
1976 - Rojavin Raja
1976 - Grahapravesam
1977 - Annan Oru Koyil
1977 - Avan Oru Sarithiram
1977 - Theebam
1977 - Ilaya Thalaimurai
1977 - Naam Pirandha Man
1978 - Vaazhkai Alaigal
1978 - Ennai Pol Oruvan
1978 - General Chakravarthi
1978 - Justice Gopinath
1978 - Pilot Premnath
1978 - Punniya Boomi
1978 - Thyagam
1978 - Andhamaan Kadhali
1979 - Vetrikku Oruvan
1979 - Thirisoolam ssss
1979 - Pattaakathi Bairavan
1979 - Nalladhoru Kudumbam
1979 - Naan Vaazhavaippen
1979 - Kavari Maan
1979 - Imayam


1980 - Rishi Moolam
1980 - Ratha Paasam
1980 - Visvaroobam
1980 - Emanukku Eman
1980 - Dharma Raja
1981 - Mogana Punnagai
1981 - Maadi Veettu Ezhai
1981 - Lorry Driver Rajakannu
1981 - Keezhvaanam Sivakkum
1981 - Kalthoon
1981 - Amarakaaviyam
1981 - Sathya Sundharam
1982 - Vasandhathil Oru Naal
1982 - Vaa Kanna Vaa
1982 - Thyagi
1982 - Thunai
1982 - Theerpu
1982 - Sangili
1982 - Paritchaikku Neramaachu
1982 - Oorum Uravum
1982 - Oorukku Oru Pillai
1982 - Nenjangal
1982 - Hitler Umanath
1982 - Garuda Saukiyama
1983 - Sumangali
1983 - Sandhippu
1983 - Unmaigal
1983 - Miruthanga Chakravarthi
1983 - Neethibathi
1983 - Vellai Roja
1983 - Kashmir Kadhali
1983 - Uruvangal Maaralam
1984 - Iru Medhaigal
1984 - Ezhudhaadha Sattangal
1984 - Vaazhkai
1984 - Vamsa Vilakku
1984 - Sarithira Nayagan
1984 - Siranjeevi
1984 - Tharaasu
1984 - Thiruppam
1984 - Simma Soppanam
1984 - Dhaavani Kanavugal
1985 - Bandham
1985 - Needhiyin Nizhal
1985 - Padikkadha Pannaiyar
1985 - Raja Rishi
1985 - Muthal Mariyathai
1985 - Naam Iruvar
1985 - Nermai
1985 - Padikkadhavan
1986 - Thaaiku Oru Thaalaattu
1986 - Saadhanai
1986 - Mannukkul Vairam
1986 - Lakshmi Vandhachu
1986 - Anandha Kanneer
1986 - Viduthalai
1986 - Marumagal
1987 - Raja Mariyadhai
1987 - Muthukkal Moondru
1987 - Kudumbam Oru Koyil
1987 - Krishnan Vandhaan
1987 - Thaambathiyam
1987 - Veerapandiyan
1987 - Jallikkattu
1987 - Anbulla Appa
1988 - En Thamizh En Makkal
1988 - Pudhiya Vaanam


1990 - Kaavalukku Gettikkaaran
1991 - Gnana Paravai
1992 - Thevar Magan
1992 - Naangal
1992 - Mudhal Kural
1992 - Sinna Marumagal
1993 - Paarambariyam
1995 - Engirundho Vandhaan
1995 - Pasumpon
1997 - Once More
1997 - Gopura Theebam
1997 - Oru Yathra Mozhi (Malayalam)
1998 - En Aasai Rasave
1999 - Mannavaru Sinnavaru
1999 - Poo Parikka Varugirom
1999 - Padayappa

Sivaji Ganesan - Autobiography of an Actor

Sivaji Ganesan: Autobiography of An Actor. Compiled and edited by T.S.Narayana Swamy (in Tamil), English translation by Sabita Radhakrishna; Sivaji Prabhu Charities Trust, Chennai, 2007, 250 pp. Book Review by Sachi Sri Kantha, 11 November 2008

Brando and Ganesan

Marlon Brando (1924-2004) in USA and Sivaji Ganesan (1928-2001) in South India were talented contemporaries. Both set the definitions for what acting is, both in stage and in movies in their cultural milieu. Both were school drop outs; while Brando left school during his high school years, Sivaji Ganesan never even completed his primary schooling. Both blossomed as talent that has been unseen and unheard of; Brando in the hands of Elia Kazan, and Sivaji in delivering the scripts of Anna and Karunanidhi. In late career, both had their critics; Brando was lampooned for his �method acting� and Sivaji was critiqued for his �overacting�. One day in 1962, both Brando and Ganesan met for lunch and exchanged pleasantries in Hollywood.

The motif of a new face seizing an opportunity of a life time when the chosen star rejects the role in stage or cinema is a recurrent theme. In his autobiography, Marlon Brando noted that his big break in stage in 1947, for a Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar Named Desire, came when he was the third choice as the lead male cast. Two established movie stars, first John Garfield (1913-1952) and then Burt Lancaster (1913-1994) had to turn down the role. Then, the director and producer of the play felt that he was �probably too young�, but left the final decision of selection to playwright Tennessee Williams, who wanted Brando to �have the role�. A Streetcar Named Desire play opened in New York on Dec.3, 1947 and a 23 year old Brando became the talk of the town.

Akin to Brando�s story, we have Sivaji Ganesan, hailed as the Marlon Brando of Indian stage and screen, who seized an opportunity of his life time in 1946, at the age of 18, when he was offered the role of Maratha king Sivaji, for a play authored by C.N.Annadurai (Anna) � a role that was rejected by M.G. Ramachandran (MGR), at the last moment. Here are excerpts from Ganesan�s reminiscences of his lucky break:

�Anna wrote the play Sivaji kanda Hindu Rajyam. Originally, M.G. Ramachandran was chosen to play the role of Sivaji and the costumes tailored for him. For some reason MGR turned down the offer. With hardly a week left for the play, D.V. Narayanaswamy, the stage manager, was extremely worried. He told Anna that MGR had refused to act this role. Both had a brainstorming session to find alternatives�Anna thought a beard would look good on me. He put the question to me very directly. �Ganesa, are you willing to act as Sivaji?� I perspired profusely at this question�Anna asked me to try it out. Moreover he had the confidence that I could do it. He handed me a 90 page dialogue manuscript and advised me to go through it. He was going home and on his return would audition me for the role. Anna gave me the manuscript at eleven in the morning and he came back around six in the evening�I managed to memorise so much in merely seven hours. �You are Sivaji�, he announced, his voice choking with emotion. If I could memorise a 90 page manuscript in a relatively short time, it was only because of my passion for acting, you could even call it addiction�There were only four days left for the play to be staged and all the costumes tailored for MGR had to be downsized to suit me. They had to pad cotton in some places to correct the size difference as I was a mere boy and was slightly built at that time.�

Thus, at the age of 18, Ganesan received his moniker �Sivaji� in 1946, and comfortably carried it to this tomb. �I am not very sure of the day of the week, but I know I was born on October 1, 1928.� said he. That day was a Monday, and on that day his father Chinnaiya mandrayar was arrested for taking part in an anti-British campaign in Villupuram. This autobiography of Villupuram Chinnaiya Ganesa Moorthy (Ganesa Moorthy was his original name) first appeared in Tamil on Oct.1, 2002, on the first posthumous birthday of Sivaji. It consists of a question and answer format. The questions were formulated by Dr. T.S. Narayana Swamy, and Sivaji provides reminiscences of his notable life. The English version appeared five years later on Oct.1, 2007.

For a comparison on the influence of maternal love, here is Brando�s reminiscences: �The money that came with A Streetcar Named Desire was less important to me, however, than something else: every night after the performance, there would be seven or eight girls waiting in my dressing room. I looked them over and choose one for the night. For a twenty four year old who was eager to follow his penis wherever it could go, it was wonderful. It was more than that; to be able to get just about any woman I wanted into bed was intoxicating.� Brando was unlucky in that his mother turned out to be an alcoholic and he suffered badly from lack of maternal love and direction.

For Sivaji, his mother Rajamani Ammal, though illiterate had a mother�s common sense in directing her prodigious son�s family life. Ganesan reminise�s in gratitude: �The film Parasakti was released in 1952 and I got married the same year�My mother decided that it was time for me to tie the knot and arranged to get me married to my cousin�s daughter Kamala�The simplicity of the wedding made it a revolutionary ceremony. I was married on May 1st 1952 at Swamimalai, a place close to my cousin�s house. Sri P.A. Perumal, annan MGR, Sri Karunanidhi, the poet Kannadasan, Smt. T.A. Maduram, Sri. S.V. Sahasranamam, along with directors Krishnan and Panju attended my wedding�Nowadays much emphasis is placed on celebrating weddings extravagantly with glitz and glamour. My wedding was devoid of that and my total expenditure was only five hundred rupees! I confess that I did not have the means to spend more.�

For the uninitiated, P.A.Perumal was the producer of Sivaji�s first movie Parasakti, who stood by his talent when other influential personnel (like AVM�s studio boss Meiyappa Chettiar and director P. Neelakandan) in the studios griped about him. Karunanidhi was the script writer for the movie, veteran Sahasranamam was a fellow actor in the movie and Krishnan-Panju were the directors of Parasakti. The mention of 500 rupees for his wedding seems to be a dig and rebuke to the well-publicized wedding of his grand daughter N. Sathyalakshumi to Jeyalalitha�s then adopted son V.N. Sudhakaran, that made news on Sept.7, 1995.

In a profession rife with polygamy, paramours, dalliances and affairs, Sivaji practiced monogamy and attributed his mental health and vigor to his wife�s devotion and love. His sincere compliments to his wife Kamal were, �She is the captain of our home and my boss. I will act only in accordance with her wishes.� The book is dedicated to Kamala, who died on Nov. 3, 2007.

Hard Work

In the first edition (1963) of their landmark book, Indian Film, Eric Barnouw and his prot�g� S.Krishnaswamy, allocated three paragraphs to Sivaji�s role and relevance to Tamil movies. (Krishnaswamy was the son of K. Subramanyam, one of the pioneers in Tamil films.) However, in the second edition (1980) of the same book, the three paragraphs had been condensed into a single paragraph. For record, I provide the first, adulatory paragraph that appeared in the first edition below, to reflect the importance of Sivaji the actor in the then Madras in late 1950s and early 1960s, when his influence was at its peak.

�In Madras one of the most astonishing phenomena is film star Sivaji Ganesan. Among southern film stars only M.G. Ramachandran, the star associated with the Dravidian movement, has in recent years come close to him in status. For some years a leading Madras theatre has shown only films starring Sivaji Ganesan. This has not been difficult, for he stars in innumerable films. For some years it has seemed risky for any producer to produce a Tamil film not starring Sivaji Ganesan. [italics, as in the original.] He produces films himself but also appears in the production of others. He is always involved in many projects simultaneously, dolign out a morning of shooting time here, an afternoon there, while numerous producers wait nervously for his next moment of availability. It is common for films made under these circumstances to be in production one, two or three years, or even more. For some years in the Madras film industry scores of film workers � producers, directors, actors, writers, technicians � have at all times been dependent on the favorable decisions of Sivaji Ganesan. His nod secures financial backing. Because of his central importance, script, cast and choice of director are all subject to his approval. During his precious appearances at the studio he works with speed and precision, and can be so charming to co-workers that he is adored by all. Then he is off again, leaving anxiety as to when he will return once more. In appearance he does not especially conform to any hero pattern. He is, on the contrary, squat and stockily built. But his fine voice has a large range of expressiveness, and he can play such a variety of roles that almost any starring role is offered to him � comic or tragic � without regard to suitability. Such is his standing, so precious his time, that no director dares direct him, and his scenes are often completely out of key with other portions of a film. Seldom has a substantial talent been used so recklessly � or so profitably. He has amassed a fortune and carries on well-organized and well-publicized charities.�

Sivaji concurs with the profile of him provided by Barnow and Krishnaswami. Before his first invited trip to USA in 1962, he notes: �I had signed up for the film Bale Pandiya. I went into the studios on the second of the month and left the sets on the twelfth after completing the film. I probably hold the world record of completing a film in eleven days time. I had acted in three roles in the film and annan M.R. Radha in two.� In another page he had stated: �During the period of my life when I was extremely busy, the studios would assign rooms exclusively for me during the different shifts. I worked in three shifts (7am-1pm), (2pm-9pm), (10pm-5am). I used to work twenty hours a day, and on odd days return home for four hours of rest. Many a time I would run through the day�s schedule and move to the next studio to begin the following day�s work. I compensated for my sleep deprivation by napping whilst traveling in the car and during breaks.�

An Autobiography in Three Shots

A technical dictionary defines a shot as �what is recorded between the time a camera starts and the time it stops, ie., between the director�s call for �Action� and his call to �Cut�. The three common shots are, (1) A long shot or establishing shot, showing the main object at a considerable distance from the camera and thus presenting it in relation to its general surroundings; (2) A medium shot, showing the object in relation to its immediate surroundings; (3) A close-up, showing only the main object, or, more often, only a part of it.

The gamut of this autobiography consists of 155 questions and answers. Among these, the first 49 questions provide the long shot, covering Sivaji�s life from childhood to the release of his first movie Parasakti in 1952. In this, the hero remembers with gratitude those who helped him in kind and cash � drama troupe leader Yathartham Ponnuswami Pillai, his senior actors Kaka Radhakrishnan, M.R. Radha, N.S. Krishnan, MGR, Anna, Karunanidhi, producer of his first film P.A. Perumal and the directors of Parasakti, Krishnan and Panju. Following 63 questions offer a medium shot, covering the period from 1952 to 1970, when Sivaji�s influence in the Tamil movie reached its peak. He remembers affectionately his guru in politics, the Congress leader K. Kamaraj, and a few in the movie world � like producer/director B.R.Banthulu and directors A. Bhimsingh and A.P.Nagarajan. Final 43 questions spanning the period from 1970 to 1993 were more or less close-up shots, when Sivaji dabbled in politics and became a flop. He also nursed a hurt feeling that his contributions to the Indian movie world had been slighted by national politics, indifference and professional politician �termites� (his term), who used him for their wants.

In Politics

Sivaji Ganesan�s political career lacked direction and commitment. From 1946 to 1957, he was aligned with DMK leaders like Anna and Karunanidhi. He says: �I have never been a member of the DK or DMK. No doubt, I accepted the ideologies of Anna and Priyar and tried to spread their message. I accepted the principles for which the party stood, but did not become a member.� Then from 1957 until 1975, Sivaji�s mentor in politics was Congress leader Kamaraj. After Kamaraj�s demise, he shifted his alliance to Indira Gandhi, until her death in 1984.

Indira Gandhi nominated Sivaji, for the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) in 1982, after this post became vacant following the death of Hindi actress Nargis (1928-1981). A bout his performance at the Rajya Sabha, Sivaji reminisces: �If I spoke my mind just became I was an MP, it would lead to squabble. I went to Delhi to represent the woes of the film industry. I attended the Rajya Sabha sittings, spoke about the ideals of Kamaraj at opportune moments and instigated others to follow them. What more can one do?� After Indira Gandhi�s assassination, Sivaji�s ties with the Congress Party soured, which he attribute to tale carriers in the party who are professional politicians. Strangely he never mention a Congress Party big-wig�s name in Tamil Nadu (the likes of R. Venkataraman, G. K. Moopanar, Kumari Ananthan, V. Ramamurthi, Maragatham Chandrasekhar and P. Chidambaram) in his recollection.

About Rajiv Gandhi�s selection and tenure from 1984 to 1989, Sivaji�s thoughts are as follows: �I also played a part in making Rajiv Gandhi a politician and worked to make him the prime minister. One should not forget that, should one? Prior to the elections I met Rajiv Gandhi at the Governor�s residence. I told him rather pointedly that there were many termites in the party and that he must get rid of them, otherwise he could not become the prime minister. Rajiv Gandhi�s face reddened on such a delicate issue being brought out in the open. Quick to seize advantage, certain persons of our State thought that the moment was just right to eliminate me. They passed on some unsavoury information to Rajiv Gandhi about me. They made me a scapegoat. I thought to myself that I did not need this party and if I stayed, they would humiliate me further.�

On Jan.28, 1988, Sivaji quit his ties with Congress Party that sustained him for over 30 years. Soon after that, he established his own party named Tamizhaga Munnetra Munnani (TMM) on Feb.10, 1988. He considers this decision as one of his mistakes. �Many of the people with me were professional politicians. They had to remain in politics necessarily to make a living. I was compelled to start a party for their sake, although I did not require it.� Egged on by those who pampered him, his TMM party contested the January 1989 Tamil Nadu state legislative assembly elections, in alliance with one faction of AIADMK (that of MGR�s wife Janaki Ramachandran). Of the 49 TMM candidates who stood for election, none were elected. Sivaji himself lost at Tiruvayaru constituency to DMK candidate Chandrasekaran Durai by a margin of 10,643 votes. He notes, �The votes that I secured came from people of another party. It is true that I was defeated. This was a big disappointment and a very difficult situation that I faced. What could one do? When we take wrong decisions, we have to face disappointments.�

Later, Sivaji dissolved his party and on invitation from his friend V.P. Singh (later to be prime minister), he joined the Janata Dal and functioned for a while only to quit later. His advice to artistes with political inclinations were: �Be a friend to politicians but do not become a politician. Do not become a member and get caught in the web�Remain a singer, don�t become the song�this is my message.�

Plus and Minus

The plus points of the book include, (a) a memorable assemblage of retrieved old photos of stage plays and clips of movie stills, (b) an appendix providing a listing of Sivaji�s 10 plays, staged by his troupe Sivaji Nadaga Mandram, 287 movie titles and another 18 movie titles that featured him in a guest/honorary role. A notable demerit of the book is the absence of an index, a common omission in Tamil books.

I located a slip in Sivaji�s famed memory. He had noted that on his way to USA in 1962 as a guest of cultural exchange program, he first landed in Rome. �I was scheduled to join His Holiness the Pope for a meal, but unfortunately the Pope died a week before my arrival and I did not get the chance to meet him.� The fact is that Pope John XXIII died not in 1962, but on June 3, 1963.

Though he had seen three generations of performers from age 7 to 70, Sivaji had been diplomatic on commenting about the performances of fellow artistes � actors, lyricists, music directors, playback singers, script writers and directors. His comment was: �I am an actor and it would not be ethical to comment on another performer. I will only say that he or she performed well but will never comment on anyone�s �bad performance�.� It appears that he never had his likes and dislikes. To the question �What was your salary for the film Parasakti?� Sivaji had replied: �The highest salary I got those days was 250 rupees per month. This was my remuneration for Parasakti. I received 25,000 rupees for each of the other projects. The 250 rupees salary was an honorarium and the 25,000 for my expertise as an entertainer. As Sri P.A. Perumal was instrumental in giving me the first opportunity, I agreed to a small remuneration from him.� That was in 1952. One would be curious to learn, how much he earned for his 100th movie, Navarathri (1964), 200th movie, Trisoolam (1979) and for his final 287th movie Pooparikka Varukirom (1999). Information of his earning when he was at his peak are sadly missing.

On completing the 250 page book, one gets a feel that much has been left out in this autobiography. May be, the question and answer format adopted has a role in such omissions. Proper, penetrating questions may have been omitted for reasons of causing inconvenience for those who are living. Sivaji�s taste on sporting interests (wild game hunting) had been noted. But we are left clueless about his taste for books and authors � how big was his library? his taste for music and movies (actors, directors and technicians) in other languages. Not much information was forthcoming on the business angle of his cinematic involvement in Tamil Nadu. A few of Sivaji Ganesan�s professional associates (such as MGR, Karunanidhi, poet Kannadasan, director C.V. Sridhar and script writer Aroordhas) have left their impressions in Tamil. Among those I have checked, quite a few details on Sivaji presented by Sridhar and Aroordhas in their memoirs, are missing in this autobiography.

To sum up, as an actor Sivaji Ganesan was a class act, as a politician he was a flop. As an autobiographer, Sivaji�s performance � like many of his movies � provides glimpses of some class in a flop, leaving much to be desired. Eric Barnow and Krishnaswamy, in the 2nd edition (1980) of their book, Indian Film, summed up on Sivaji: �He could view his own eminence objectively. Those who sought his favour, he said, had mixed feelings toward him. They wooed him but would also like to destroy him. Asked if the dominance of the star was good for the industry, he said without hesitation that it was not.� Ganesa Moorthy the gentleman, when he passed away on July 21, 2001, took to his grave the hurt feelings and the misdeeds of those who had benefited from him and who attempted to destroy him. The $45.00 price I paid for the book in net purchase from a New Delhi vendor seems marginally off-base for a 250 page book, and the price has not been inserted in the book. But for fans of Sivaji, it is a good memento to cherish.

Sources Consulted

Aroordhas: Cinema � Nijamum Nizhalum. Arunthathi Nilaiyam, Chennai, 2001.

Aroordhas: Naan Muham Paartha Cinema Kannadigal. Kalaignan Pathipakam, Chennai, 2002.

S. Barnet, M. Berman, W.Burto: A Dictionary of Literacy, Dramatic and Cinematic Terms. Little, Brown & Co, Boston, 1974.

E. Barnow, S.Krishnaswamy: Indian Film. Columbia University Press, 1963 (1st edition), Oxford University Press, 1980 (2nd edition).

M. Brando: Brando � Songs My Mother Taught Me, 1995.

S. Chandramouli: Thirumpi Parkiren � Director Sridhar. Arunthathi Nilaiyam, Chennai, 2002.

Composite Picture Gallery - the Many Roles...

Sivaji Ganesan Picture Gallery 1
Sivaji Ganesan Picture Gallery 2

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